|Pursuant to a royal decree issued in June 2007, the first general elections to the new 47-member National Assembly - the lower Chamber of the Bhutanese Parliament - were held on 24 March 2008. They followed elections to the newly-created upper Chamber - the National Council - held in December 2007 and January 2008.
The previous 150-member National Assembly had been a non-partisan body. Elections to that body had taken place at the district level. On 31 July 2007, it was dissolved in view of the 2008 elections.
On 22 April 2007, a royal edict was issued allowing the establishment of political parties in Bhutan. The People’s Democratic Party, led by former prime minister Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup, was the first political party to be formed in Bhutan. In July, the Bhutan United Peoples Party (BPUP) and the All Peoples Party (APP) merged under the banner of the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (Bhutan Unity Party, DPT) which was led by former prime minister Lyonpo Jigme Y. Thinley. Both DPT and the PDP promised to establish a solid democracy and pledged their commitment to the national goal of Gross National Happiness. The Election Commission subsequently registered the DPT and the PDP as the parties to contest the 2008 elections.
Another party, the Bhutan National Party (BNP), comprising retired civil servants was formed in 2007. However, the Election Commission announced that the BNP did not meet the requirements to be registered as a political party. It explained that the BNP did not have the required cross-national membership and support or a manifesto with a clear ideology.
According to the electoral rules, elections to the National Assembly are held in two rounds. In the "primary round" (first round), Bhutanese vote for the political party of their choice. In the "general election" (second round), the two political parties that obtain the highest number of votes in the primary round field their candidates.
With only two political parties registered to contest the elections, the primary round was not held for the 2008 elections. Both parties campaigned on similar platforms, promising to bring extensive developmental activities. The DPT emphasized "equity and justice", focusing on education, employment and infrastructure. The PDP promised to fight poverty and boost the rural economy through decentralization.
On 20 January 2008, bomb attacks occurred in four places, including the capital, Thimphu. A newly-formed radical group, the United Revolutionary Front of Bhutan, claimed responsibility for the blasts.
Of the country's 634,000 inhabitants, 318,000 were eligible to vote. In a measure intended to guarantee the independence of the elections, members of the royal family and Buddhist monks are not allowed to vote. Despite the pre-election violence, the polling went off in relative peace. A total of 79.45 per cent of eligible voters turned out at the polls, almost 25 percentage points higher than the turnout recorded for the National Council elections two months earlier.
42 international observers, including the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM), monitored the polls. The EU mission declared that the elections generally met international standards for democratic elections, but fell short in certain areas. It emphasized the importance of giving the voters "a genuine choice of alternative ideologies".
The final results gave a resounding victory to the DPT, which won 45 of the 47 seats. The local media attributed the DPT victory to the popularity of Mr. Thinley, considered to be close to the people. Four women were elected.
On 29 March, the two elected PDP candidates pledged to work towards building a "strong opposition" in the National Assembly.
On 9 April, the King designated Mr. Thinley as the new Prime Minister. He subsequently announced his 10-member cabinet and the nominees for the posts of Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly.
The National Assembly held its first session on 22 April and elected Mr. Jigme Tshultim (DPT) as its new Speaker.